Martha Gunn (1726-1815), Brighton 'dipper'

Martha Gunn – Brighton Celebrity

We’re not quite sure that Martha’s claim to fame would work in today’s celebrity culture, for Martha, who was born Martha Killick daughter of Friend and Anne Killick in 1726 (baptized 19 September 1731) , was a ‘dipper‘. Much has been written about her already, but we thought we would add a few extra bits.

'A Calm' by James Gillray (1810).
‘A Calm’ by James Gillray (1810). Courtesy of Princeton University Library

What was a ‘dipper’? Well, in the 1700 and early 1800s doctors would recommend that people bath in sea water to restore their health. Needless to say this concept was terrifying for many, so in places such as Brighton people were employed as ‘dippers‘.

Huts on wheels, like the one below were used to allow the bather to protect their modesty, the bather would climb into the hut, change into their swimming attire, the machine was then pulled by dippers into the sea. Dippers were also expected to ensure that people were not swept away by the current, arguably like a modern day lifeguard, so they would need to be very strong.

Bathing machine at Weymouth
Weymouth

This occupation in itself was never going to give Martha celebrity status, but her royal connection to the Prince of Wales, later George IV, did. She was a favourite of his and apparently enjoyed special privileges including free access to the kitchen at the Royal Pavilion.

The portrait of her below, is reputed to show Martha holding the Prince of Wales as a small child, however, this is not feasible as  the Prince did not visit Brighton until September 7th, 1783, he was 21. So despite the annotation at the top of the painting this must have been added at a later stage.

Todd’s print catalogue of 1799 simply described the painting as being with an unnamed child

There was also another copy of the piece produced by William Nutter which is now held by The Met, dated 1797. It does not state that the child was the Prince of Wales, but that the original was in his possession and this one was dedicated to the Prince of Wales.

V0017100 Martha Gunn, a Brighton bather holding a small child that she has just saved from drowning.
Coloured engraving by W. Nutter, 1797, after J. Russell.
1797 By: John Russellafter: William NutterPublished: 1 June 1797

It also appeared in the following catalogue which confirmed the artist to be John Russell – ‘A catalogue of all the capital and valuable finished and unfinished original works of the distinguished artist, John Russell, Esq. R.A where it was to be sold along with other paintings by Mr. Christie on February 14th, 1807.

Martha Gunn and the Prince of Wales by John Russell
Martha Gunn and the Prince of Wales by John Russell; Brighton and Hove Museums and Art Galleries
The Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV born 1762 and Mrs Gunn

Martha was a large and strong woman and was well respected by the town and she even featured in the caricature below.

A scene at Brighton; some Frenchmen have landed on the beach; others are in broad clumsy boats which have left French men-of-war. In the foreground old women and yokels are dealing with the invaders. A woman resembling Martha Gunn, the bathing-woman, trampling on prostrate bodies, holds out at arm's length a kicking French soldier. Courtesy of British Museum
A scene at Brighton; some Frenchmen have landed on the beach; others are in broad clumsy boats which have left French men-of-war. In the foreground old women and yokels are dealing with the invaders. A woman resembling Martha Gunn, the bathing-woman, trampling on prostrate bodies, holds out at arm’s length a kicking French soldier. Courtesy of British Museum

She died in May 1815 and was buried in the local churchyard.

Hampshire Chronicle, 15th May 1815

Long after her death a plaque was added to the house where she and her family lived.

Plaque on the Brighton house where Martha Gunn lived. It says: Martha Gunn 1727-1815, the original bathing woman lived here.

Featured Image

British School; Martha Gunn (1726-1815); Brighton and Hove Museums and Art Galleries

The death of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, 15th May 1823

The 15th of May marks the anniversary of the death of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, eighteenth-century courtesan and mother of the Prince of Wales’ reputed daughter.

Grace Dalrymple Elliott's daughter Georgiana as an infant, portrait by Joshua Reynolds. The portrait is now held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Grace’s daughter Georgiana as an infant. The portrait is now held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Grace died in Ville d’Avray, Paris, in 1823, having lived a long and tumultuous life filled with adventure and experiencing both the highs and the lows of the society of her age. Although she is best remembered as a demi-rep, there is so much more to her than that: she was not merely the mistress of titled men, but a strong woman in her own right, one who lived upon her own terms. Sadly though, at the end of her life, Grace had little left; her one remaining close family relative was her young granddaughter who she adored, and Grace’s dying regret was that she had nothing but her best wishes to leave her. She was buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery on the outskirts of Paris.

Looking down the hill at tombstones at the Cimetière du Père Lachaise in Paris, France. Photo by Craig Patik, 2000 via Wikimedia. CC BY 4.0
Looking down the hill at tombstones at the Cimetière du Père Lachaise in Paris, France.
Photo by Craig Patik, 2000 via Wikimedia. CC BY 4.0

Grace left a will, one which caused a little trouble to the 1st Marquess and Marchioness of Cholmondeley, the guardians of her granddaughter. To the Cholmondeleys fell the trouble of sorting out her affairs as they related to England and to her granddaughter. An adopted daughter, formerly known as Miss Staunton, laid claim to Grace’s French assets.

The marquess hired an English attorney, Mr Allen, to sort the matter out. In his accounts he lists a payment for a woman he described as Grace’s sister, to cover the cost of a carriage she took to Sèvres to testify to Grace’s handwriting. A sister? Grace only had one known sister, Jacintha, who had died some years earlier, although a shadowy third sister is mentioned in some sources. In our biography, An Infamous Mistress, we suggest who this lady could be, the one lady left in Grace’s latter years who had both an interest in Grace’s will and a genuine affection for her.

The path to Sèvres. View of Paris c.1855-1865 by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot via Wikimedia. CC BY 4.0.
The path to Sèvres. View of Paris c.1855-1865 by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot via Wikimedia. CC BY 4.0.

Our biography of Grace, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, the product of many years of research into her life, is now available and published by Pen and Sword Books. It is the most definitive account to date of Grace’s life and also sheds new light on her equally fascinating wider family and ancestors, giving us a better understanding of the real woman behind her notorious persona.

An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Infamous-Mistress-Celebrated-Dalrymple-Elliott/dp/1473844835

 

Header image: Ville d’Avray, the Pond and the Cabassud House by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, c.1840. WikiArt.

A closer look at Thomas Gainsborough’s full-length portrait of Grace Dalrymple Elliott

An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Infamous-Mistress-Celebrated-Dalrymple-Elliott/dp/1473844835

Our biography of the eighteenth-century courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott, which tells her story more completely than ever before, shedding light on her siblings and maternal family who were central to her experiences, is out this month in the UK in hardback. Also containing many rarely seen images relating to Grace and her family, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott is available from Pen and Sword Books and all good bookshops. It you are in America, it can be pre-ordered now and will be released there in Spring 2016.

 

Today we are going to have a closer look at a fabulous portrait of Grace, who had her likeness painted twice by Thomas Gainsborough. The first was a full-length, probably commissioned by her lover the Earl of Cholmondeley in 1777 and which hung in his London mansion at Piccadilly. When the portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy in Pall Mall during 1778 the General Evening Post newspaper called it a ‘striking and beautiful likeness’ of Grace, quoting some lines from The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope.

If to her share some female errors fall,

Look on her face, and you’ll forget them all.

Sadly for Grace, the picture proved to have a longer life in the earl’s household than she did; when he refused to marry the divorced Mrs Elliott she upped sticks for France and the Anglophile duc d’Orléans. Reputedly, the portrait was viewed, a few years later, by Cholmondeley’s boon companion, George, Prince of Wales, and he admired both the painting and its subject so much that Cholmondeley was despatched across the Channel to fetch Grace back home from the arms of her French duc and to deliver her into those of a British prince. The portrait is now held in New York, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Mrs Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough (Metropolitan Museum of Art).
Mrs Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Over the years the portrait’s condition meant that certain details had been lost, but these can be seen on an engraving made of it in 1779 by John Dean (or Deane, c.1754-1798, draughtsman and engraver (mezzotint)). On his engraving can be seen a flagstone floor and a burst of light coming over the trees in the background. During treatment of Gainsborough’s portrait of Grace, dark paint was visible under the sky suggesting that the picture may originally have been intended to be much narrower, possibly without the landscape in the background.

The left hand of the 1779 engraving and Gainsborough's portrait, side-by-side.
The left hand of the 1779 engraving and Gainsborough’s portrait, side-by-side.

An additional revelation also came about during the Met’s treatment of the portrait – the presence of a small dog which was once in the lower right hand corner was also revealed.[i]

Bottom right hand corner of the Gainsborough portrait - can you see an impression of a dog?
Bottom right hand corner of the Gainsborough portrait – can you see an impression of a dog?

And here is the 1779 John Dean engraving of ‘Mrs Elliot’ courtesy of the Yale Centre for British Art.

John Dean, 1754–1798, British, Mrs. Elliot, 1779, Mezzotint, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund
John Dean, 1754–1798, British, Mrs. Elliot, 1779, Mezzotint, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund

Notes:

[i] British Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575-1875, by Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), Katharine Baetjer, 2009.

Divorced wife, infamous mistress, prisoner during the French Revolution and the reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ child, notorious courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott lived an amazing life in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century London and Paris. Strikingly tall and beautiful, later lampooned as ‘Dally the Tall’ in newspaper gossip columns, she left her Scottish roots and convent education behind, to re-invent herself in a ‘marriage a-la-mode’, but before she was even legally an adult she was cast off and forced to survive on just her beauty and wits. The authors of this engaging and, at times, scandalous book intersperse the story of Grace’s tumultuous life with anecdotes of her fascinating family, from those who knew Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, and who helped to abolish slavery, to those who were, like Grace, mistresses of great men. Whilst this book is the most definitive biography of Grace Dalrymple Elliott ever written, it is much more than that; it is Grace’s family history which traces her ancestors from their origin in the Scottish borders, to their move south to London. It follows them to France, America, India, Africa and elsewhere, offering a broad insight into the social history of the Georgian era, comprising the ups and downs, the highs and lows of life at that time. This is the remarkable and detailed story of Grace set, for the first time, in the context of her wider family and told more completely than ever before.

Grace Dalrymple Elliott – New book due out January 2016

The 15th of May marks the anniversary of the death of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Georgian Era courtesan and reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ daughter, Georgiana Augusta Frederica.

Georgiana Augusta Frederica Elliott (1782–1813), Later Lady Charles Bentinck courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Georgiana Augusta Frederica Elliott (1782–1813), Later Lady Charles Bentinck courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Grace died in Ville d’Avray, Paris, in 1823, having lived a long and tumultuous life filled with adventure and experiencing both the highs and the lows of the society of her age. Although she is best remembered as a demi-rep, there is so much more to her than that: she was not merely a fashion icon and the mistress of titled men, but a strong woman in her own right, one who lived upon her own terms. Sadly though, at the end of her life, Grace had little left; her one remaining close family relative was her young grand-daughter who she adored, and Grace’s dying regret was that she had nothing but her best wishes to leave her.

As long-term readers of our blog may know, we have written a biography of Grace, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, the product of many years of research into her life, which will be published by Pen and Sword. It contains much information that is new to Grace’s story, and some rarely seen illustrations and pictures too; our book is also a broad insight into the social history of the Georgian era, interspersed with the fascinating lives her maternal and paternal family led across the globe. It is both the story of Grace’s life and her family history.

Mrs. Grace Dalrymple Elliott (1754?–1823), 1778 Thomas Gainsborough (British, 1727–1788) Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Mrs. Grace Dalrymple Elliott (1754?–1823), 1778 Thomas Gainsborough (British, 1727–1788) Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott will be published in January 2016, and will be available for pre-order from this summer.

If you would like to be kept informed in the meantime, please do consider subscribing to our blog where, alongside our remit of ‘blogging about anything and everything to do with the Georgian Era’, we will also now post regular updates on the progress of our book.